Independent Lens

S22 E3 | FULL EPISODE

Jonathan Scott's Power Trip

In Jonathan Scott's Power Trip, the HGTV home makeover guru shines a light on the obstacles and opportunities for America’s solar industry, following fossil fuel monopolies that halt the growth of renewable energy while visiting with politicians, coal miners, solar panel installers, the Navajo Nation building its own solar plant, and others at the forefront of the battle for energy freedom.

AIRED: November 16, 2020 | 1:23:01
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TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

- We have set here and watched ou r farms deteriorate.

We've watched our kids leave,

and solar, it could help us down here.

- Solar power is a proven jo b creator

and it lessens our dependence on fossil fuels.

What's preventing everybody from having this?

- This is a big threat.

- With electricity in most of the country,

you really only have on e choice.

- They want to stop competition from solar.

- They're one of the more powerful

lobbying organizations. - Why should some company

get a monopoly on that? It's obscene.

- I'm not the only one in the South

that's a Conservative that loves solar.

- But there's a economic an d health justice issue

embedded in not having access to solar.

- "Jonathan Scott's Po wer Trip."

Now only on Independent Lens.

[upbeat music]

[mellow guitar chords]

[chatter]

- What's up, big guy?

[laughter]

- The day I did my so lar install,

I remember thinking, "M an, I have never seen

this many smiling faces on a construction site,"

and I've been on a lot of them.

- Hey. - Hey, no worries, thank you.

- Appreciate this. - Yeah.

- Come on. Just stack it.

- You could tell th ese were people

who were working for mo re than just a paycheck.

There was an energy an d an enthusiasm to them

like they knew their work wa s making a difference.

- Ha ha ha ha.

- I went into it with sheer op timism and excitement.

Okay, you guys have been busy up here.

You can put me to work.

- Yeah? - Whatever you need.

I couldn't believe ho w energized I was.

Thank you.

It's so funny, 'cause when I wa s a kid I had the calculator

that had just the little, tiny photovoltaic cell,

and that's what powered the calculator, and I said to Mom,

I'm like, "Why don't we power everything with this?"

And she said, "Well, you can't, not something that big."

This is gonna be a great th ing, so very excited.

What was impossible when I was a kid is possible now.

My whole house is being powered off of these, so it's like,

"What's preventing everybody from having this?"

I had visions of solar panels on every roof in the country,

but within days, I realized my personal solar journey

would become the story of an entire system

built to keep us fr om having a choice

in the way we power our lives.

My name is Jonathan Scott.

Some of you may know me as the taller,

more handsome half of TV's ho me renovation heroes,

the "Property Brothers."

Some of you might not know me at all, and that's fine,

but you're here, so sit back and relax

while I tell you my solar story.

For 10 years, my brother and I have traveled the country

turning disaster houses in to dream homes.

- Jonathan and Drew! - The Property Brothers!

- Please welcome Drew and Jonathan Scott.

- If all that renovation ha s taught me anything,

it's that people us e a lot of power.

From the moment we climb out of bed,

we're connected to a world fed by endless amounts of energy.

I'm always trying to find ways to help homeowners save money,

and I quickly realized that th e booming solar industry

might have th e perfect solution.

- Solar energy is the wave of the future.

- Solar is growing faster

than most industries across the country.

- Solar energy is becoming mo re and more popular

and more affordable. - All right.

So I decided to try it myself.

It's just so simple. In less than a day,

my roof was covered in panels,

and I immediately saw my energy bills plummet.

I was creating so much energy,

I could actually make money

off that giant ball of gas th at shows up every day,

but as soon as I started to soak up the sun,

my hopes were smashed.

Someone somewhere was not on ly killing my solar dreams,

but they were making money se lling the energy

I paid to produce.

Sadly, like millions of solar users,

I faced the harsh reality

that when it comes to choosing ho w we power our lives

and truly ha ving energy freedom,

this country has a long, lo ng, long way to go.

[dramatic chords]

- The folks here in our valley

are fuming over the latest change with solar rates.

- Many in the solar industry

say the deck is stacked against them.

all: We want freedom!

- Just like me, thousands of Nevadans were outraged

that somebody else wa s making money

off the solar energy we pay to produce.

- We want them to see just how many people

care about solar and energy freedom.

- Solar customers in Nevada

now blasting th e state's decision

to phase out net metering, th e incentive program

that reimbursed residential cu stomers at retail rates

for excess power generated by their rooftop panels.

- In 2016, the Nevada Public Ut ilities Commission, or PUC,

rolled back a program th at made solar power

a financially viable option

for thousands of solar customers.

So you're a homeowner th at's decided to make

solar power your choice fo r energy generation.

Every day, you harness th e sun to create power.

Any of that power yo u don't use

goes back in to the electrical grid,

and with net metering,

you receive a credit fo r that excess power,

which reduces your bill.

- Dr. Sullivan interview. Mark.

- Years ago, the price for producing solar energy

was through the roof. Only environmental fanatics

would think about investing in solar energy.

- It rises like a mythical mu shroom out of the pines

and palmettos of South Dade.

Is it a home for a Hobbit or a druid convention hall?

Solar panels are an integral part of the home.

The future could very well lo ok like this.

- It really wasn't profitable.

They were doing this because th ey were the kind of bearded,

excuse me, California types.

They figured, "Solar energy is just cool,

"and I'm going to do this because I'm going to

thumb my nose at the oil guys," right?

But when net metering started,

you could actually bring yo ur bill to zero...

nothing--zero.

- Solar power is getting ch eaper and cheaper,

which means the way yo u get electricity,

it could ostensibly change forever.

We have a chart th at shows how solar power

is going to overshadow ex isting coal and gas plants.

- Net metering laws ar e a part of the fuel

that fired up demand fo r solar panels.

The number of houses pr oducing solar in states

where net metering wa s in place skyrocketed.

Some people in areas dr enched with sun

were zeroing out their bills an d making a profit

from the solar cells on their roofs.

- Utilities are losing money

because now you and your house have control

over what electricity you use and from where.

- With billions at stake, ut ilities were fighting back.

all: We want freedom!

We want freedom! We want freedom!

- This is turning into a very serious, heated debate.

There were so many people at today's meeting,

some of them had to wait in the hall for their turn to speak.

- Existing customers are now being subjected

to unfair new tariffs

that will make our large investments worthless.

[applause] - Thank you. Thank you.

- Maybe we need to organize ourself and vote you out.

- Yeah! - Yeah!

[applause]

- Yeah, Tricia, it was 5 hours of public comment,

but just about 5, 10 minutes ago,

the PUC voted to uphold the solar rate hike.

- The actions you're taking today

are taking from the mouths of the people

and giving it to a single monopoly utility!

[applause, whooping]

You're stealing from the people

and giving to the rich!

You're like the anti-Robin Hoods!

- Yeah! [applause]

- So who is winning the fight ag ainst energy freedom?

- Believe it or not, th e biggest winners,

as a group, are utilities. Ye s, utilities.

- When most people think of public utilities,

we imagine no nprofit organizations

built to benefit yo ur community.

- Because Nevada is our home, an d we want what you want.

- Well, nothing could be fu rther from the truth.

- You like utilities?

- I love utilities. Last year,

we were up about 21% in our utilities sector.

- Utilities are sexy right now,

up 30% in the last 12 months.

- Virtually all utilities ar e private companies,

and they are definitely bu ilt for profit.

- I see the only guy who's buying utilities is Buffett.

- Warren Buffett, Be rkshire Hathaway,

will buy Nevada's largest utility company,

NV Energy, for $5.6 billion.

- All over the US, so me very rich people

are spending billions so they can make trillions.

[bell ringing]

- Solar panels could cost th ousands of jobs in Colorado.

- Today, Minnesota lawmakers ar e voting to abolish

a solar power subsidy program de spite objections from...

- The impending tariffs on solar panels

could cost thousands of jobs.

- The cost of going solar in Arizona,

that is going up.

- Power companies ar ound the country

are changing the rules,

making solar power an investment

that could take several li fetimes to actually pay off.

- It's clear to me

that the utilities reap al l the financial benefits

while we suffer th e consequences.

I want to find out ho w the system got so broken

because if the fight out there

is anything like Nevada, we 're losing.

[dogs barking]

[bright music]

- Welcome to the South.

You know, a lot of this part of the country

reminds me of where Drew and I grew up.

There's a lot of agriculture and a lot of farms.

I spent a lot of time on the ranch,

so I really feel like I know these people.

How long have you been running this piece of property?

- Since before I been here. - Oh, yeah.

It's been in the family since back in the early 1900s.

- Oh, wow. So you can't take any credit?

- No, none at all. None at all.

- What's sort of the perception of solar out here?

- Two years ago,

you couldn't talk to anybody about it,

but now more and more people

are trying to get 'em put on their homes and everything.

- Like a lot of America,

Georgia is fi lled with farmland...

vast sunny countryside

perfect for solar to assist wi th the incredible cost

of growing crops an d raising animals.

So not only do you have

to get all of the water pumped to all of this,

then you need to get all of this refrigerated.

- Absolutely.

- What? - Yeah.

- A farmer now, he going to have

over a million dollars ti ed up in just equipment.

- And what about your operating costs,

like utilities and stuff? Is that--

- That keeps going up, going up.

[cows lowing]

- In Georgia, the market fo r solar is controlled

by the energy commission ju st like Nevada.

There are currently no tax credits offered,

and the legislature has never required

utilities to produce renewable energy.

[tense music]

Part of my journey me ans finding activists

looking out fo r people like these farmers.

It turns out one from Georgia

had taken her fight to my own backyard.

- We want them to see

just how many people care about solar and energy freedom.

[gunshots]

- Debbie is nobody's idea of a liberal tree hugger.

She's a founding member of the Tea Party,

she loves guns, an d she's leading the fight

for solar energy in America.

- I'm not the only one in the South

that's a Conservative that loves solar.

Conservatives, we don't want the government

telling us what we must do.

The customer's voice is drowned out by the voice of big money.

Individual liberty, energy choice, and jobs--

those are the messages that resonates with Conservatives.

- For years, De bbie and her friend, Kay,

have been fighting for the en ergy rights of Georgians.

- Welcome. - Thank you for inviting me.

Oh, I'm hugger, too. Nice to be here.

- Welcome to the South. - Thank you very much.

- We have set here and watched ou r farms deteriorate.

We've watched our kids leave because they need jobs,

and it's just been a sad thing for me.

So I tried to find out what I could do to help.

My goal was to help farmersbe more profitable,

and solar, it could help us down here.

You know, it's right there.

It can help us in so many ways,

but yet we're fighting against so mething that is just--

we can't win at this point. - You're shackled.

You're held captive to these utility companies.

They want to control it.

They want to stop competition from solar.

- Georgia power's th e primary provider

of electrical energy in the state.

They serve over 2. 5 million customers.

Their utility model is also the norm

for other parts of the country.

[heavy music]

- Utilities don't like co mpetition.

They own electricity. It is theirs.

They don't want to change that basic relationship

between them and their customers.

They're not willing to change.

- The utility, the guys who play golf

and have the whale pants--

they own the production, th e generation of electricity.

They own the transmission, wh ich is the high power lines

that send the stuff ov er long distances,

and they own the distribution,

which are the power lines yo u see on your street.

And they're making ma ssive profits,

and there's no pushback.

- If you want to go buy an iPhone

or any other kind of consumer product, you go out to a store,

and you have a number of choices.

With electricity, in most of the country,

you really only have on e choice,

and that company ha s a monopoly.

[rag-time music]

- What they actually have is a government-mandated

legal monopoly.

In the early 20th century,

the government struck a deal wi th the utilities

to guarantee power was fed to ev eryone that needed it.

Even the farmer a hundred mi les from the city

was able to power his home be cause of this agreement,

but what was necessary a hundred years ago

isn't needed now.

We've come a long way fr om horses and buggies,

milkmen and silent movies.

The reason monopolies ar e illegal

is because they're bad fo r you, the consumer.

Historically, the government ha s done everything it can

to prevent one company

from controlling a product or service market.

Yet today, most of th e country's utilities

have remained a zero-competition business.

- Georgia Power announced that it will go ahead

with the completion of these tw o nuclear power plants.

The plant has been plagued by cost overruns and delays.

- The construction is years behind schedule

and billions over budget.

- In 2012, Georgia Power

convinced the state's public ut ilities commission

to approve the construction of two nuclear reactors

at the Plant Vogtle site.

- The project actually st arted out at $7 billion,

and the prices have escalated.

Now we're talking about $27 billion.

- Georgia Power customers

have been paying an extra hu ndred dollars a year

on their bills si nce 2012 for reactors

that won't start generating el ectricity until 2021.

- They mismanaged th e Vogtle project,

and all of a sudden, they have do ubled their profit.

Their profit went from $2.7 billion to $5.4 billion.

- You screw up, and you actually

get more reward for it.

- Absolutely. - Bingo.

- For utilities, bad business is good business

because their monopoly deal al so guarantees them

a 10% profit on anything th at generates revenue.

This includes the cost to build and maintain

their own publicly funded in frastructure.

[dramatic music]

- They want us to stay addicted

to their monopoly model.

I mean, they have a guaranteed profit.

They want to be able to build a central station power plant,

build the transmission lines,

do all of that hu ge infrastructure

because they get a guaranteed 10 % markup

to where the customer ends up wi th ever-rising energy bills.

In the business world,

those types of guaranteed returns don't exist.

- I think it's probably one of the most challenging times

in our business since Thomas Edison

founded it more than a hundred years ago.

- The trade association fo r electric utilities

that all these companies po ol money into,

they're called th e Edison Electric Institute.

They're one of the more powerful lobbying organizations

in Washington.

- As you know today,

the world's electricity markets

are radically different from the ones that existed

just 10 years or so ago,

so it's even more important th at we work together

to find ways to accomplish the goals

that I know utilities ar ound the world have.

- In 2011, they put out th is national-wide paper

known as "The Death Spiral,"

and it became all the rage within policymakers of,

"If we continue to allow rooftop solar to grow unbridled

"and truly, you know, create th is vision of the future,

the utilities around th e country will go bankrupt."

That was a brilliant move on Edison Electric's part.

- And the utilities' next move

is to get politicians to convince you

that their problem is your problem.

- We're gonna bring the coal industry back, folks.

We're gonna bring it back.

[cheers and applause]

We are putting our great coal miners back to work.

[cheers and applause]

[dramatic music]

- When you mention Kentucky, everybody thinks "coal."

I mean, that's just what it is.

Years ago, we had thousands of coal miners.

Every little town yo u see around here

was built from coal.

[quiet music]

- So where we are now, we're in the power plant

built by the United States Steel Corporation

in 1914, '15, '16.

The fuel for this power plant came from the coal

on either side of the creek here...

Which produced electricity fo r the mines,

the mine offices, th e bathhouse, the church,

the school, post office, th e company store.

- For over a century,

the miners of eastern Ke ntucky worked tirelessly,

risking their lives an d their health

to keep the lights on ac ross the country.

- My family all were coal miners.

- Obviously, this country was built on coal.

- Yeah. - Coal miners are sort of

the backbone of the country. - Absolutely.

[solemn music]

My dad worked 38 years in the coal mine.

He was 64-- 68 year old when he died.

He died of black lung. - Oh, he did?

- Yeah. - And you have--

- I do, and I do. I have it, too. Yeah.

- Black lung, a disease caused

by the inhalation of coal dust,

has cost this co mmunity dearly,

yet it's entirely preventable.

And is that something that slowly gets worse and worse?

- Oh, yes. Yes, it does.

- How many friends have you lost?

- Oh, Lord, hundreds. Hundreds.

I'm telling you, over 40 year, hundreds.

Your lungs affects every organ in your body,

your kidneys, your liver--everything.

- Coal is no longer th e juggernaut it once was.

It's been on the decline si nce the '50s.

At its peak, th e coal industry nationwide

used to employee 86 3,000 miners.

Today, it's less than 50,000. In eastern Kentucky,

that number stands at less than 4,000.

- The coal communities in states like Kentucky

were unfairly targeted by the Obama administration

as part of its war on coal.

- War on coal. - The war on coal.

- The war on coal.

- Coal companies and their coal associations

have been very effective at pushing this message

of a war on coal

and that it's been President Obama and the EPA

that has led to the downfall of the industry

in eastern Kentucky. It's just not true,

and, you know, what's so damaging to these communities

is when they still think th at there's hope

of a revitalization of the industry.

You're prolonging that decline,

and you're not allowing an y opportunity

to develop a new economy in eastern Kentucky.

- If you were able to have an influx of jobs

into this community here

and it was either reopening a coal mine

or it was wind or solar or another energy--

- I would open a mine.

- You'd open a mine? - I'd open a mine.

- Even with all the health consequences?

- I would. Why not use what we got?

Why not put these coal miners back to work?

Let them mine the coal.

- Or the Sun; we've got ton-- an abundance of sun.

- We need the coal--the people that live here needs the coal.

- I guess I'm trying to think, you know, on your side,

for example, so you have black lung,

so why would you want anybody to go to that job?

- I wouldn't want 'em to get the disease,

but I would want the jobs

available for 'em if they wanted it.

[dramatic music]

- First of all, they don't mi ne the coal like they did

years ago, underground.

They come in here,

and they take the mountaintops off.

- The majority of underground mines

that employed thousands of men ha ve shut down.

Pretty much only de structive mountaintop

and strip mining are left, an d many of the jobs

that would have been done by hand a century ago

are now carried out by machines

at a fraction of the cost.

- Coal is not coming back as far as big jobs,

and people oughta realize that.

[somber music]

- Eastern Kentucky people, they love to work.

They love to do a good job.

For what Kentucky minershas done

for the United Statesof America,

they should help us find a better way

than what we got now.

- Even as the demand for coal ha s declined,

it's the automation that ha s devastated employment,

but the promise of jobs in coal's return

is still a powerful party line.

- As we speak, we are preparing

new executive actions to save our coal industry

and to save ou r wonderful coal miners

from continuing to be put out of work.

The miners are coming back.

[crowd cheers and applauds]

- Another empty promise to people that need jobs

and could find them in an industry

that grows every day th e sun comes up.

[upbeat music]

- The clean energy economy has been demonstrated

to produce far more jobs, three, four,

and five times more jobs than the fossil economy,

and that's largely because wh en you invest

in fossil fuel-based energy sy stems,

you're literally pouring yo ur money down an oil well

or down a coal mine,

where most of that money is ac tually going to extraction.

But when you invest in solar,

you're investing in people an d companies and hardware.

- In 2016, there were only 50,000 coal miners.

In just this year, 50,000 new solar workers were hired.

- There's currently hi gh demand

for solar workers an d electricians

with projected increases in to the foreseeable future,

and unlike coal jobs, th ese are good, safe jobs,

but don't take my word fo r it.

Remember Osh? Le t's ask her.

- Working in solar is great.

I feel like I'm making a difference each day I go out

and I build solar for a customer.

It's nice. [laughter]

It's a nice fit.

We're out there wi th customers every day.

I'm helping them in saving mo ney and going green.

Thank you.

The pay is amazing.

I've gotten four raises in less than a year.

There's no other career that ta kes care of you like that.

It's an amazing, am azing industry to work in,

and we're just out here saving the world one roof at a time.

[soft music]

- Hi. How you doing? - Hey.

Good. Thanks for getting together.

- Sure.

- Very excited to talk all things sun.

In the very beginning, was there any opposition?

- In the very beginning, no, not at all.

When I started, we were just go ing as fast as we could,

just hiring as fast as we could

to put solar on rooftops.

- There were that many people that wanted solar?

- Yeah, absolutely,

and it was like that until the day it stopped.

- For Nevadans working in so lar, the news was grim,

and the fallout was immediate.

- It wasn't long ago ho pes for renewable energy

were dashed by the state agency

that's supposed to pr ovide fair

and impartial regulation of public utilities.

- Utility regulators ra ised rates

for rooftop solar customers,

prompting widespread layoffs in the fast-growing industry.

- Back in Nevada, th e consequences

of canceling net metering

were being felt not only by NV Energy solar customers

but by thousands of workers in the solar energy sector.

For NV Energy, Go vernor Sandoval

remained a loyal ally.

- There's a lot of concern about

rubber stamping the wishes, the desires

and the money-making ability of NV Energy here.

- Any of the savings, in terms if the rates are changed,

go straight to rate payers.

The company would not keep any of that savings.

- But they're probably going to get a whole lot more customers

if the solar industry goes belly-up,

which we're seeing happen,

you know, day after day in the last week or so.

- I don't know if that's necessarily true.

- What the heck is happening?

- They're handing us our last check,

saying that we will no longer have solar in Nevada.

We are unemployed.

[melancholy music]

Not just my job was taken away;

thousands and thousands of employees throughout Nevada,

their jobs have been taken as well.

- How many people di d you have to let go?

- Oh, it was a lot. It was a lot.

- How do you deliver that news?

- Oh. Um, with a lot of tears.

There's not a good way to do it.

"I'm sorry that we thought we had a good thing going here,

and it turns out we don't."

It didn't just affect us. It was just everybody.

- Devastating, ve ry emotional time.

I started a life here, and my life is here in Nevada.

I never imagined leaving Nevada.

I've never--sorry.

- Personally, it's one of th e worst days of my life.

It was--it was tragic. There's no other way to put it.

- So how did they do it?

How did NV Energy put one of th e fastest growing industries

out of business overnight?

First, come up with a word th at no one likes

and use it a lot.

- As the rooftop solar industry has gotten larger and larger,

we've seen this subsidy grow.

- You have 17,000 rooftop solar customers.

You have 700,000 approximately NV Energy customers

who are essentially subsidizing that.

- We do not want the nonsolar customers,

of whom there are over a million,

to be subsidizing the 17,000.

- The customers who are participating in net metering

were not sharing in the costs of the pipes

and the wires th at actually get

the electricity to your home.

- That is just not true. Ev ery utility customer

pays their fair share. Lo ok at your utility bill,

and you'll see endless fi xed fees

that contribute to your share of the grid costs.

Some solar users are even ch arged additional fixed fees

by their utilities.

- Everything about a utility sy stem is about sharing costs.

You're sharing costs of infrastructure.

Otherwise, if you were at the end of the line,

like out in the middle of the desert somewhere,

you'd be paying a hundred times more

for your electricity th an the person

who lives ne ar the power plant.

- The transmission an d distribution

of energy customers use

is probably the most expensive pa rt of their bill,

but that's actually ho w solar helps the grid.

- Distributed solar helps all rate payers

'cause it lowers the grid costs.

We're producing energy du ring the day,

and that electricity go es onto the grid

during the most expensive times.

- Anya Schoolman went from so ccer mom to solar expert

when her family decided to put the power

of her neighborhood's en ergy needs to work.

There are solutions th at work for every house.

- Absolutely.

- Even like this: Oh, it's raining, it's cloudy,

not producing electricity-- Wrong, you're still producing.

- Absolutely.

We tried, yo u know, just to do it

on our house, and we called al l these installers,

and nobody wanted to come into D.C.

There was no companies in D.C.

It was just co mpletely confusing.

It was really expensive.

This is 12 years ago now, and I was like,

how about we get th e whole neighborhood,

and then we could save money by buying in bulk

and learn from each other,

and we started around th e neighborhood.

And so two weeks later, 50 homes have signed up.

- Oh, yeah, there's some new ones right there, too.

- Yeah, I actually brought the D.C. electrical inspector

to see his first solar panel.

You know, he's like, "L et me see this thing.

I've never seen on e of them before."

The utilities di d not want to do it.

We had to fight really hard.

I mean, they basically ha ve a playbook,

so it's undoing net metering, ac cusing solar

of being a cross-subsidy,

accusing it of being unfair, et cetera.

- After butting heads wi th utilities

for over three years, re sidents won their fight.

Citizens with solar panels we re able to take control

of their own sh ared energy resource.

- Organically, we went from neighborhood to neighborhood,

and it's thousands of houses at this point.

- Anya and her fellow ho meowners

solved their energy needs wi th solar,

but that was not the end of their efforts.

- And then a light bulb we nt off.

We started to get an idea th at allowed us

to expand the market an d lower costs for everyone,

and it's called community solar.

- With community solar, re sidents

can take advantage of commercial buildings,

parking garages, an d other large pieces of land

to erect large-scale so lar arrays.

Anyone can buy in to the system,

which is especially beneficial fo r people

without land or property wh ere solar can be installed.

Community solar also allows pe ople in apartments

to share in the benefits of renewable energy.

Panels put on th e building's roof

not only power in dividual units

but can also generate credits th at further reduce costs.

How much were yo ur electricity bills?

- This time of year, from running the AC living here

in Washington D.C., the electric bills

were anywhere from $150 to $200 to maybe $300,

depending on your size of your unit.

- A month? - A month.

- That's insane.

So how does that fit into all your expenses?

- Sometimes, you're working like two jobs

just to make sure your electricity

is paid versus your rent.

- So what's the difference

as far as your energy costs now?

- Our energy bills today,

as compared to before the solar panels,

it's cut in half du ring the summer.

- After they put them solar panels in,

I can buy more bread.

I can buy more milk, and it helps a whole lot.

- It must be amazing, too,

just to know that you can generate your own energy, too.

You're not reliant solely on anybody else.

- [snapping] It feels great.

[laughter]

- I believe that if any other American city

had control over their energy use,

they would do exactly what we're doing.

- Right. - But the problem is,

in every other American city, they're inside a state.

With the state legislature,

the utilities have this outsized influence.

They're usually the largest political donor in the state.

They often capture the public service commissions

that regulate it,

so to pass the bill that would do something like this,

even though it makes so sense to everybody,

the politics are really hard at the state level.

[uneasy music]

- D.C. was able to realize it s solar dream

because, unlike every other ci ty in America,

it's not in a state.

No state, no state government,

no state PUC and no st ate-sanctioned monopoly.

- The current way our energy economy works

is really regressive. It hurts the poor the most.

The less disposable in come you have,

the more you end up sp ending on electricity.

In that sense, the ability

to take control of your electricity,

whether that means making your house a little more efficient

or putting a solar panel on your rooftop,

that is a field-leveler.

[chorus vocalizing]

- ♪ This little li ght of mine, Lord ♪

all: ♪ I'm gonna let it shine

♪ Oh, this little light of mine ♪

♪ I'm gonna let it shine

♪ This little light of mine

- Light has a biblical an choring to it.

It says, "Let there be light,"

and there was light, and it was light for everybody.

It was for the good of the whole.

Why should some company get a monopoly on that and say,

"Nobody can do this but us"?

all: ♪ This little light of mine

♪ I'm gonna let it shine

- Faith Community Church is known throughout Greensboro

for their social activism. Pa stor Johnson himself

has fought on the frontlines fo r civil rights

and the protection of his ow n community for decades.

- Nelson has always sought to be in the top

in civil rights for human beings.

He never wanted to be average, and he never has been.

- There's not a Christian fa ith where you sit back

and observe unethical things an d say,

"It doesn't affect me."

- Nelson has made some major impact in the community,

and his thing is, "As long as I have a voice,

"I refuse to be part of the silent majority

who sits and watches as things deteriorate."

That's been his modus operandi all of his life.

- Many of our parishioners

are those who earn less than a thousand a month,

working sometimes tw o and three jobs.

- One of the founding members of this church,

Sister Linda Jones,

she literally cut her pills in half, skipped days

in order to pay her light bill.

God bless her soul, she passed on,

and there are hundreds of people right around here

who need that help.

- When you have to decide whether you're going to

take your medicine or whether you're going to put on

the food on the table for your family

instead of having to pay the electricity bill,

something is not right, something is not balanced.

- It's a sin. It's obscene.

- So the question gets to be,

how do our kids ge t the best education?

How do we bring businesses? Ho w do we bring people?

How do we provide programming that will enable them

to have a better quality of life?

- There are a hundred bl ack churches in Greensboro.

They have acres of land.

They could build a community solar farm.

Their members see their church saving money.

That would spawn a whole new industry.

I can imagine young black men and women

getting trained right here in Guilford County

to service these churches and to service these homes.

I was getting very excited about the possibility

of a solar movement.

What was standing in the way of that

was the policies of Duke Energy

and the regulations of the utilities commission.

- In North Carolina, as in many states,

there are laws ba nning customers

from buying energy fr om third parties.

NC WARN, a nonprofit en vironmental group,

teamed up with Pastor Johnson to challenge that law,

installing a solar array on the church's roof

in hopes of driving down th e cost of energy

for those who need it th e most.

- They wanted us to join them to challenge this monopoly.

- They sent a cease and desist order

to our partner, NC WARN,

and told them th at they would be fined

something like a million dollars a day.

We were that much of a threat to them.

- Solar is the way to go, hey, hey!

- Far from laying down an d being intimidated

by the most powerful co rporation in the state,

what happened next wa s truly inspiring.

[uplifting music]

The church directly co nfronted Duke Energy

and took their case al l the way

to the state supreme court.

- I knew th at there were policies

and laws put in place,

but I have learned

to be discerning about policies and laws.

It was very clear to me

that I needed to be part of challenging the law

because that would open th e door

in reducing the cost of energy.

It would open the door to build unity between churches

and between cities. It had enormous possibilities.

- Oh, wow. There is no doubting

who is the most powerful company in the state.

That's pretty clear with that building.

It definitely looks like they could

financially draw out a legal battle

a heck of a lot longer than anybody else.

- Faith Community Church wa nted to test regulation

in North Carolina

by doing something that was basically illegal.

- They were trying to pick a fight.

- You could say that; they had a good setup to get publicity.

This was a African-American church,

and we're a big utility, and we're a target,

and sometimes there are groups out there--

they're not trying to advance policy.

They're trying to get media attention,

and they did a good job here.

- Are there situations where, as a human being,

you have a conflict as a utility company

where you're saying, "This is how it has to be,"

versus maybe "There's a bigger picture

with something that's broken"?

- I think that's just the way it has been.

- That's the worst explanation I've ever--

That--to me, when somebody says to me,

"It's because it's the way it's always been,"

we used to enslave people.

That is just the way it always has been.

- I think, you know, we have to operate

with the system we have in place,

and right here in North Carolina,

we have a regulated electric system,

and we're doing the best we can in our little sandbox here.

- Sadly, the North Carolina Su preme Court

ruled against NC WARN,

upholding the law pr ohibiting third-party sales.

All payments provided by the church to NC WARN

were awarded to Duke Energy.

It's just so frustrating wh en you see

how rigged the game is.

"You know, we just have to follow the rules.

It's the how it's always been."

Yeah, you set the rules.

You put in the politicians that were going to do your bidding,

and all these people here, everybody here, unfortunately,

they're the ones who are manipulated.

It is just an archaic old-boy system,

and they've essentially figured out a way to print money,

and they want to protect that.

Why would we allow government to be influenced

so easily by a corporation whose goal

is to maximize their profits regardless of the outcome

or the side effects of their product?

- When the marketplace is working,

when people are installing solar,

this is a big threat.

- Coal, petroleum, na tural gas,

the three primary fossil fuels,

today provide 87% of the energy globally.

There's a huge amount of money spent,

especially by the fossil fuel companies,

to try to influence anything they can

that makes their industry more profitable and able to grow.

[dramatic music]

- Two of the biggest co ntributors to lobby spending

have been Charles Koch

and his late brother, David.

The brothers' Koch In dustries Incorporated

is heavily invested in the natural gas industry.

Natural gas now accounts fo r over 35%

of our energy supply

and has played a critical role

in slowing our transition

to renewable energy.

They're billing natural gas

as being a clean option,

and I think they're comparing that to coal.

- They're not wrong. It's cleaner than coal,

but solar is cleaner than natural gas.

We don't emit an y carbon dioxide

or other harmful emissions.

- Its extraction by the pr ocess of drilling deep wells

and then setting off po werful explosives

leads to groundwater co ntamination, air pollution,

and increased fr equency of earthquakes.

- From 1975 to 2008, there was pr ecisely one quake per year

with a magnitude of 3.0 or over in Oklahoma.

It's now up to 40 quakes per year,

and you get all of those other and smaller quakes.

There were 2,600 quakes un der 3.5.

- Despite the environmental an d economic impact

of fossil fuels, ma ny in government

are still under th e Koch influence.

- So if you get campaign help from the Koch brothers,

you think you're gonna go around talking about

we need to transform our energy system?

I don't think so. I don't think so.

- When you look back over the years

of the last several cycles, hundreds of millions of dollars

in electoral politics, what have you gotten for that?

- I think there have been some good things,

particularly at the state and local level.

- Boy, have they ever.

Koch Industries have partnered wi th numerous lobbying groups,

including Ed ison Electric Institute

and many other firms an d think tanks

with locations al l over the country.

- You have states like Nevada, Florida,

Southern states that should be leading our country

and the world in moving to solar,

and they're way behind states like Vermont, by the way,

and that is the power of the Koch brothers.

It is the power of utilities and big money

who are saying to those states,

"My God, we have an incredible natural resource here.

Don't tap it."

- Florida gets 3% of its

electricity from renewables.

And of that,

only a fraction comes from solar.

But to people like the Kochs,

even the smallest threat is a target.

- Amendment 1 is putting home solar panels on the ballot.

Here in the Sunshine State, we rank 17th in the nation

when it comes to using that solar energy.

- Amendment 1 is one of the most controversial issues

that you're being asked to vote on today.

It's the Florida Solar Amendment.

[energetic music]

- The Koch brothers' efforts-- they can't be as upfront.

- This ad is all over so cial media

telling you to vote yes

for Amendment 1.

It sounds pro-consumer,

but tonight, critics say it's really

a power grab for the power companies.

- They are always behind legislative

disinformation campaigns.

- Amendment 1 guarantees Ra y's right to generate

his own solar energy,

and Ray can sell energy ba ck to the grid.

That's good for Ray, go od for the environment,

good for Florida.

On November 8th,

vote yes on 1 for the sun.

- On its face, Florida's So lar Amendment 1

appeared to give customers wh at they were asking for.

- The way it's written is, th e first sentence

hits you right in the face and says,

"Boy, this is the greatest th ing in the world."

- Except it didn't.

- The amendment establishes a right

under Florida's constitution fo r consumers to own

or lease solar equipment on their property.

But we obviously already have the right--I installed it.

- We've heard from a lot of you about Amendment 1,

the solar amendment, saying that it's confusing.

- I'm not that guy who's, you know,

trying to wear a tinfoil hat

and think there's all these conspiracy theories,

but I honestly feel like

there's this effort to back the fossil fuel industry.

- There's nothing conspiratorial here.

This is way out in the open.

- So I'm not crazy? - Well, I don't know

if you're crazy or not,

but you're right on this issue anyhow.

- Big power companies like Duke Energy,

Florida Power and Light, and TECO

have been dumping millions of dollars

into this pro-Amendment 1 campaign.

- Buried in the ballot in itiative was language

that would actually

kill the rooftop solar industry in Florida.

- The amendment could allow ut ilities to kill programs

that made it worth in vesting in panels,

including net metering an d third-party leasing,

just like Nevada.

And how do we know this?

We caught them te lling the truth.

- Really? He told the truth? That's what happened?

Wow.

- In September of 2016,

an audio recording surfaced of this man, Sal Nuzzo,

the vice president of policy

at the James Madison In stitute,

a Koch brothers-funded po litical think tank.

It explained how Amendment 1

deliberately misled th e public.

- They tried to deceive voters, and it's really shameful

and disappointing to see that this happened.

- It's like th ey don't even care.

I don't blame people

when they can't figure out what the hell to believe.

- Yeah, it's extraordinarily difficult to convince somebody

when the whole discussion

is happening outside of the factual world.

- These utilities spent $2 6 million

trying to pass

this ballot initiative,

and for most of the year,

it looked like they would win.

When we got that audio re cording,

we gave it to reporters th roughout Florida,

and people were un derstandably outraged.

- There's only one industry that is threatened

by your right to solar,

and it is the big utility companies.

- Last week, the union representing Florida's

professional firefighters wi thdrew its endorsement

after hundreds of its members complained.

- There isn't a real co nsumer group

that actually supports the Consumers for Smart Solar.

- Amendment 1, focusing on solar energy,

that measure has been rejected.

- That's the frustrating thing fo r me,

is it's the misinformation.

If I'm making a decision,

somebody out there can spend a bunch of money to confuse me.

- They came in, and hidden from view,

they ran this massive television ad campaign

based on falsehoods,

but people from all political persuasions said,

"Wait a minute. Th at's not fair.

We're not going to stand for this."

- Stopping Amendment 1 in Florida

was a small but important vi ctory for solar power.

The momentum was continuing ac ross the country

as many cities and states were em bracing the solar movement.

- A state district judge

has sided with solar energy advocates.

- Applications for solar panels--

permits roughly doubled.

- A clean energy bill ha s passed unanimously

in the South Carolina Ge neral Assembly.

- And in Nevada, the people we re making themselves heard,

and the politicians we re finally listening.

- An alternative energy source is poised

to make a comeback in Nevada.

- Rooftop solar will shine again in Nevada

after spending nearly two years under a dark cloud.

- Sandoval is taking action on that big battle

that's been going on be tween solar customers

and the Public Utilities Co mmission.

- Following the large-scale jo b losses

in Nevada's ro oftop solar sector,

political attitudes against ne t metering began to shift.

Everyone was concerned ab out the state's economy,

but what caught po liticians' attention

was that nonsolar customers

were as upset ab out the changes

to net metering as solar customers.

- When the legislators we re knocking on doors,

talking to their constituents during their campaigns,

they were asked, "What are you going to do about

"restoring the rights of residential solar customers

and our ability to choose solar"--

was one of the top questions

that came up during that campaign.

- There was obviously a backlash

where people felt that they were robbed of,

you know, their right to net metering.

- You don't breathe a sigh of relief

because you weren't robbed. You get pissed off

because your neighbor was robbed.

The governor recognized th at there was a problem

that had to be resolved.

- Was that in response to the people?

- He never said that, but I believe that it was.

- If you ever thought yo ur voice doesn't matter,

here's a clear case pr oving that wrong.

The people of Nevada ov erwhelmingly disagreed

with the PUC's changes to net metering laws,

and the governor got th e message loud and clear.

- Governor Sandoval could tell that being

an antisolar Republican in Nevada

is not good for his political future, and he reversed course.

That public utility commission

that had ended net metering in Nevada,

they all got sacked.

He appointed th ree new commissioners,

and within 12 months,

they completely reversed their decision,

so they restored net metering.

- The new law capped ho w much consumers

could make on net metering,

but despite that, th e news was positive.

Net metering wa s back in Nevada,

and most important, the Nevada le gislature passed a bill

enshrining the rights of customers to net metering.

- They did something that the rest of the country

hasn't done yet.

They created a renewable energy bill of rights

which enshrines Nevadans' right to choose solar for their home.

- AB405 let us come back.

It basically gave a bill of rights to the solar customer.

It let us start working again.

- Do you think that there will be another boom?

- I think there is right now.

It's not nearly as dramatic or radical as it was,

but we are moving in that direction.

- Nevada is a great lesson of how,

when utilities tr y to take away

peoples' rights to go solar

and try to charge people more for that unfairly--

if they go too far, people get really angry.

They want the ability to make their own electricity,

and when they feel that is th reatened by this big company

that doesn't have th eir best interests at heart,

they will fight back, and in Nevada,

they fought back, and they won.

- People coming together to demand the right

to create energy from the sun: it 's inspiring.

It's clear that solar has an abundance of advantages,

but like anything, it also has its drawbacks.

- The key limitation on using so lar panels is

the sun isn't always shining,

and at night, you have to have power from somewhere else.

- You have to produce el ectricity

at exactly the moment when you need it.

If the supply does not equal de mand,

the system will break.

- I'm not saying solar is flawless.

It has its hurdles to overcome.

Obviously, panels do n't generate electricity

when there's no sunlight.

However, ad vances in concentrated solar

and in home battery technology

are allowing power to be stored for more homes

when the sun isn't available,

but they're still ve ry expensive.

Also, in places that typically ge t very little sunny weather,

solar might not be co st-effective,

and while solar is getting cheaper,

the initial cost often di scourages people

from pursuing it as an option.

The life span of photovoltaic ce lls is about 25 years,

which is much shorter th an the life span of nuclear

or hydroelectric power plants.

The panels also use a number of hazardous materials

in their manufacturing pr ocess.

While most of the panels an d components

are salvageable,

some of these parts ar e not recyclable.

Also, workers regularly run th e risk of having to handle

potentially hazardous ch emicals.

The manufacturing process al so produces

a tremendous amount of waste, so me of which can be toxic.

And generally speaking,

solar takes a lot of surface area

to produce a small amount of energy from the sun,

so growth in efficiency in panels

is going to be tr emendously important.

These are all challenges th at will take time

and money to solve,

but what seemed impossible 20 or 30 years ago

is being taken fo r granted today.

The remaining challenges fo r solar energy

will be solved soon,

but the problems th at fossil fuels have created

will take decades

and trillions of dollars to overcome.

- 70% of Af rican American communities

live within 30 to 40 miles

of a toxic-emitting power plant.

- Today, more than 26 million Am ericans suffer from asthma.

African Americans are three ti mes more likely to die

from asthma th an any other group.

- At least 30 to 40% of our young people

in this neighborhood are ac tually going to hospitals

as a direct result of the type of energy that's used.

There's an economic an d health justice issue

embedded in not having access to solar renewable energy.

- What are some of the health concerns that are directly

affecting this community?

- People dying of cancer, brain tumors,

and nobody could explain why they were happening.

- The soil itself is toxic, and it shows up in the food.

- What's causing this? - Coal ash.

[unsettling music]

- Coal ash is the highly toxic re sidue of burnt coal.

It contains arsenic an d toxic metals

linked to cancers, re spiratory problems,

neurological disorders an d birth defects.

- What do we want? all: Clean air.

- When do we want it? all: Now!

- I grew up within the shadow of that steam station.

Nobody told us not to eat the fish from the lake.

Nobody told me my air was polluted.

I noticed the sky was a little different color,

but nobody to ld me the problems.

Every morning, when we got up, th ere was such a thick layer

of coal ash on our vehicles.

Back in the '70s, th ey came in when I was maybe

seven or eight years old to build Belews Lake,

and I was so close to the steam station

where the coal ash was produced

that I could hear the workers talking.

The coal ash would be li ke a light snowfall.

We didn't think anything of it un til suddenly,

we realized th at there were diseases

breaking out th rough the community.

And finally, when a neighbor of mine went to the doctor,

the doctor said, "Oh, you live near Cancer Lake."

And we began to put tw o and two together.

- All of the stuff in the Belews Creek area is toxic.

- Is that a pretty affluent area?

- Belews Creek is a poor area.

[dramatic chords]

- Every year, power utilities pr oduce

100 million tons of coal ash.

Most of the waste is buried

in the cheapest av ailable land,

places like Belews Creek.

- My grandfather wa s a sharecropper

who could only afford to buy some land

in a primarily minority community,

so I grew up in a minority community,

and that's where most of those power plants are located,

where the poorer people live. La nd is cheap.

People like us back then, we didn't know any better.

- They have a coal power plant

that they specifically positioned in an area

that they know is going to pollute the air

and pollute the water,

particularly in communities that don't have

the economic ability to fight back and go to court.

- What bothers me the most, you're living on land

that you inherited.You don't have the resources

to just move like somebody who's rich could do,

so you're just there, hoping and praying.

- A recent study of 242 co al-fired power plants

found that 91% ha d elevated levels

of toxic pollutants in nearby groundwater.

- We don't really know the truth of whether the water

we're now drinking is polluted,

and based on the history we've seen in this country,

we're not going to find that out.

- But it isn't that this is just some local problem;

this thing is much, mu ch bigger

than the 30 or 40 miles su rrounding Belews Creek.

That's where we are in this country.

- In 2019, North Carolina ru led that Duke Energy

must remove decades of stored co al ash from its utilities.

The cost estimated by Duke Energy

is more than $10 billion

and will take up to 30 years to complete.

The utility is billing it s customers for the cleanup.

- 2016, Duke Energy's profit was $2 billion.

In 2017, their profit was $3 billion,

and they're gonna tell us they can't afford

to clean up the mess that they made in our backyard?

If you are not affected by coal ash

and you're on Duke Energy,

you're paying for coal ash cleanup anyway.

[chatter]

They should pay for the cleanup

that they made billions of dollars off of,

making us sick for 40 years.

- That's right.

[cheers and applause]

[uneasy music]

- There's a hidden subsidy in the cost of energy

derived from fossil fuels.

The price we pay is not just th e billions of dollars spent

in cleaning up th e toxic waste,

but more importantly, in the lives of the people

exposed to the air an d water it poisons.

The damage fossil fuels ca n cause

means tremendous pain an d suffering for the victims

and their families.

My grandfather, Dan Scott,

was among th e countless people

who have died fr om coal-related illness.

So I have a personal concern

for the well-being of these miners.

Coal, obviously, is part of the legacy in your family.

- Oh, yeah. - But it's also what's causing,

you know, the young death in your family.

- Yes. Yeah, it is. - For you, in this area here,

what's the most important? Is it job creation?

Is it health, the economy locally?

What's the most important thing for you?

- Most important thing for me,

well, right now it would be my health.

- Would you recommend somebody become a miner?

- I would.

Let me say that another way.

I wouldn't recommend my children to do it.

No, I wouldn't. No, I would not.

No. I wouldn't let--

- Shortly after we spoke,

Billy Noble lost his battle wi th black lung disease,

leaving his wife wi thout a partner

and his children wi thout a father.

[tense music]

For big investors, so lar poses a risk

to more than just th eir utility interests.

An energy sea change po ses a threat

to billions of dollars spread ac ross dozens of businesses

in the fossil fuel sector.

Warren Buffett's Be rkshire Hathaway company

owns utilities in cluding NV Energy,

MidAmerican Energy Company,

and Pacific Corporation.

Revenues in 2018 to pped $19.8 billion.

They also own th e transportation companies

and pipelines th at move the energy resource,

including No rthern Natural Gas,

Kern River Gas Transmission, an d Kern River Pipeline.

They own the railways th at move coal, natural gas,

and oil across the country an d companies

that inspect the resource wh en it arrives.

They own the businesses th at insure these companies.

They own the companies th at pull the fossil fuels

from the ground,

and they own the chemical co mpanies that help it flow

across the nation as quickly as possible.

Koch Industries' tentacles re ach even further

into the fossil fuel sector wi th refineries across America

and heavy interest in pipelines

and other means of transporting fossil fuels.

One of their companies, Re iss Viking,

has a product it claims touches 40%

of the 1 billion tons of coal pr oduced every year.

The investor with quite po ssibly the most at stake

is BlackRock Inc.

Larry Fink's company co ntrols $11 billion

across more than 50 companies

investing in coal po wer plant construction,

making it easily the largest in vestor in the sector.

BlackRock also owns stakes in the parent companies

of Duke Energy, Georgia Power an d Florida Power and Light.

And to bring this full circle, on e BlackRock's holdings:

Warren Buffett's Be rkshire Hathaway.

With so much on the line,

it's clear that these co mpanies and their owners

have decided that the human co st of doing business

is far outweighed by the financial losses

that come with change.

Utilities are doubling down ag ainst solar.

In Arizona, $3 8 million was spent

to kill a pro solar bill,

and in Nevada, Wa rren Buffett's NV Energy

was about to make the 30 million spent in Florida

look like chump change.

- Or maybe the most controversial and expensive

showdown in Nevada state history.

- 3 proposes to amend the state constitution

to allow customers to choose

which company they buy electricity from.

- That would effectively end NV Energy's state-regulated

monopoly stranglehold on your power rates.

- Even though Question 3

would end NV Energy's mo nopoly in Nevada,

the utility pledged to accept the results

regardless of the outcome.

- And if the state decides that some form of deregulation

is the right thing to do for the state of Nevada,

then we're gonna roll up our sleeves and get down to work.

- But instead of rolling up th eir sleeves,

NV Energy reached de ep into their pockets

and spent almost $63 million on misleading information

meant to kill the measure.

- Nevada public safety groups have joined together

to oppose Question 3.

- 3 would dismantle ou r state's

existing electric system

and eliminate co nsumer protections.

- The goal was to strike fear in to the hearts of voters.

- It would also eliminate

Nevada's current rooftop so lar program.

- It could also lead to power shortages.

- Higher electric bills

especially hurt small businesses.

- Higher electric rates especially hurt those

who can least afford it.

- Unreliable power for air conditioning

and home medical equipment th reatens lives.

all: Vote no on 3. - And the campaign worked.

Question 3 was Florida's

Yes on 1 all over again,

but this time, the same game

plan of scare tactics

and misleading information de livered for the utility.

The measure, al ong with the hope

of a free ut ility market was killed.

Once again, money talked.

- Last night, all questions on the Nevada ballot

passed with one exception, th e most controversial one,

Question 3, th e Energy Choice Initiative.

- One sector in particular is catching fire.

Check out energy,

leading the market today, an d up more than...

- And the oil certainly he lping the sectors out,

but it's really th e only one...

- We're seeing al l of our sectors

in the economy pick up.

- They've got $220 million of profit.

- And it will be in commercial op eration early this year.

- And, again, you will ma ke money off that.

- Yes, sir. We sure will.

- I'm not saying it 's hopeless,

but it is definitely gonna be an uphill battle.

I didn't put panels on my roof for financial reasons.

We know what is happening to the planet,

and we know that we need to do something.

[soft, dramatic music]

This is not about your party or the color of your state.

This is about people.

This is about their lives, their wallets, their planet.

Going around the country and talking to all these people,

you know, I'm realizing we all want a better,

healthier life for our families,

for our children.

Whether you're fighting to save the planet or to save money,

we all win if things change.

I think the solution's the same.

We want the people in power to protect the people they serve.

The only way it's gonna happen

is if we fight together and make it happen.

All of these people wh o are supposed to be there

for the people, they're doing everything

they can to stifle what the people want,

and it's the most frustrating thing

I think I've ever experienced.

- It's definitely not the way American democracy

is supposed to operate, and I have a--well,

first of all, cheer up because there's a lot of great stuff

going on at the local level and at the state level.

I get a huge amount of energy from the business community,

the NGO community.

There are now 70 cities in the U.S.

that have made a formal commitment

to reach 100% renewable energy,

and quite a few of them ha ve already done so.

- The Lone Star State is famous

for being the biggest oi l producer in America.

Now the Texan city of Georgetown

is aiming to ditch fo ssil fuels altogether.

- In the late 1990s, the State of Texas

deregulated the electric generation market.

We could then go into the open market

and buy generation ourselves,

and we didn't know at that time

whether it would be renewable.

We just knew we needed flexibility.

We had 40 plus bids on wi nd energy and solar energy.

The two sources combined

produce enough re newable energy

to keep the city renewably powered.

- Renewable power has been go od for our businesses.

Certainly we have some of our major employers

that really see it as a benefit.

- We're a red city in a red county in a red state,

and it's a well-known fact that I am a Republican.

I've been a Republican for a long time.

Renewable energy is supposed to be this left-wing theory

about energy.

You put these silly national partisan politics aside,

and you can do things that really help everybody.

And you have al l these wonderful

environmental benefits.

What else is there left to argue about?

That argument is over.

- Though Georgetown has proven th e technology works,

it struggles wi th its financial model

and currently produces mo re energy than it can use

or even sell,

but it's far from the only ci ty seeing progress

in the growth of clean energy. Ho nolulu, Hawaii,

has the most solar capacity in stalled per capita.

In Florida, the Jacksonville so lar farm generates

enough power for 1,500 homes,

and in 2017, Wo rcester, Massachusetts,

opened the largest mu nicipally-owned solar farm

in New England. Th e city expects the project

will pay for itself in only six years.

These cities ha ve something in common.

They have the means to make big,

impactful changes to their energy system.

They also have leaders who put in credible effort and energy

into making sure th ings happen.

For the rest of us, however,

not having resources or strong leadership

leaves us at the mercy of politicians,

utilities and a rigged system th at they've put in place.

Most Americans re main powerless.

My motivation to tell this story

started out as environmental.

It quickly became social,

and before I knew it, it was personal.

What I learned is th at great things can happen

if people decide th e most important thing

is to help other people.

And not far from th e simple solar install

that started my journey,

I found a shining example of how this can work,

how fixing the system is possible,

and most important,

I met people that have taken in credible steps

to provide for those wh o are desperately in need.

Way out in the dry, cr acked Arizona desert,

I found hope.

- Welcome to the Navajo Nation. - Thank you very much.

- I'm Deenise. - So nice to meet you.

- [indistinct] Scott. - Pleasure to meet you.

- Thank you for joining us on this very special day.

We're celebrating new beginnings.

- The sun. - Exactly.

- You're celebrating the sun.

- Exactly, we're celebrating the sun.

- This is impressive. Wow. - Isn't it?

- In an area just south of Arizona's Monument Valley

is the Kayenta Solar farm,

the Navajo Nation's first ut ility-scale solar plant.

- For years, people didn't th ink anything like this

could exist here on the Navajo Nation.

It's our pride and joy right now.

- I love it.

Not just a testament

to the engineering brilliance of the Navajo Nation,

Kayenta represents so mething far more important:

hope and independence.

- We always had to rely on somebody else.

If we didn't pay so mebody something,

if we didn't give somebody something, we wouldn't get it.

Whereas this project, we built it.

We planned it. We designed it.

We get the benefits from it.

- But it wasn't al ways this way.

The Navajo Tribal Ut ility Authority

traditionally purchased mostly co al-generated electricity

from third parties at a cost

of nearly $30 million pe r year.

- Because we're not a energy pr oducing entity,

we were dependent on outside entities

to provide us the power.

It was expensive, an d the costs were increasing.

- And to make matters worse, th e money was leaving

the community an d not being reinvested.

- We're a nonprofit entity.

All the revenue th at we generate

goes to the benefit of our customers,

but still we had 15,000 homes wi thout electricity.

They may have electricity at work, at school,

but when they get home,

they don't have access to electricity.

- My mom, she waited he r whole life,

and now she's gone. She never had any power.

The only thing that I have power out here

is a power generator,

and I went through about three of them, you know?

- You just don't buy th at 1 gallon

or 2 gallon gas for the generator.

You gotta buy gas for your vehicle.

That one gas trip that's done pr obably two times a week

ends up being pretty expensive.

- We're forgotten people out here without water,

without electric.

That's how I was raised.

I had to buy kerosene lamp.

I spent a whole lot all these years because of that.

Our kids, they move into town

where the light is.

I want my daughter home.

- Faced with 30% of homes in the Nation

still without power,

in a bold and forward-thinking mo ve,

the NTUA decided they needed

to get into the energy ge neration business.

- Technology is finally

becoming affordable to the point

that solar was an option that co uldn't be ignored anymore.

- The solution was to embrace so lar technology

and build the Kayenta So lar facility,

which would allow the NTUA to expand services

to more customers wi thout power.

- Right now, the Kayenta Solar facility

does feed into 18,000 homes.

Once electricity reaches a traditional homestead,

then the younger generation moves home

so they can raise their families.

So the money that's generated fr om our people

is turned right back in to the community.

We have a little ov er 700 employees,

and we would like to extend electricity

to as many homes as possible fo r the first time.

- [indistinct]

- That's what NTUA wa s built on...

Taking care of our own.

- [speaking language]

- Yeah. Yeah.

- It brings me pe rsonal gratitude

to provide fo r our communities,

for our children an d grandchildren.

- All right!

- Just a flick of a switch...

- [laughs]

- And a light turns on.

- [laughs]

- It takes your breath away, really,

when you provide a family wi th this thing

that a large part of the U.S. po pulation take for granted.

- Thank you very much, you guys.

- It gives us a sense of empowerment.

- [speaking language]

I was raised without electric--nothing.

No running water--wagon, horses, and it's good feeling.

[chatter]

- In our culture, the sun is a powerful symbol,

and it brings us life. It sustains life.

We consider th e energy generated

as an additional blessing from such a powerful source.

- The Kayenta field is a story ab out using the power of solar

to transform a community...

What a view right there.

Hold on. I need a picture of this.

Which is I'm here today to break ground

on one of the most inspiring di scoveries of my journey:

the Navajo Nation's Kayenta II So lar Project.

- A Momentous occasion for the Navajo people and NTUA,

and I just wanted to welcome you here

and thank you all for being a part of this.

- Yay!

[applause]

- Energy democracy at work, bu t fields like this

are only part of the solution.

To make real me aningful change,

we need a major shift to solar and other renewables.

I've traveled all over the country,

met people from all different walks of life,

and their stories have made one thing become abundantly clear.

The energy revolution isn't just coming.

It's already here.

Solar technology is better than ever.

It's clean, affordable.

It's a proven job creator,

and it lessens our dependence on fossil fuels.

That's why utility an d energy suppliers

are hell-bent on controlling it.

I think energy choice represents everything

that makes this country great: innovation,

opportunity, freedom.

And don't get me wrong-- I think utility-scale solar

is an amazing option.

It just can't be the only option.

For many of us, th ere are alternatives

at our fingertips.

Net metering is on the rise in America,

and renewables are being ad ded to energy mixes

in cities across the country.

Community solar is becoming a reality

for more and more lo w income neighborhoods

and is becoming a possibility

for people in dense urban areas.

Most importantly, homeowners

and landowners ar e opting for solar

and building a future wh ere everyone benefits.

Because what I want is for us all to think big.

Let's be insanely ambitious

and have solar for everyone become a reality.

There are plenty of renewable en ergy options to embrace,

but the sun is an incredible resource

that can provide us wi th more power

than we'll ever need

with none of the fossil fuel si de effects.

Solar panels ar e just the start.

Before you know it, we'll have so lar shingles on every roof.

We'll drive on highways pa ved in solar technology,

and buildings li ned with solar windows

will be capturing th e sun's energy,

and that's just the beginning.

All of this is possible, an d it starts with you.

[stirring music]

And look, if you're not quite there yet,

just ask yourself a simple question:

where does my power come from?

Or is this the right option for me and my family?

And if not, you can fix it. I promise, you have the power.

[upbeat music]

- ♪ If I'm bein' honest

♪ I'm angry and confused

♪ All it really takes

♪ Is a little bit of truth

♪ Is that so hard

♪ 'Cause if we're bein' ho nest ♪

♪ Something's gotta change

♪ Enough's enough, so wake up ♪

♪ We're all bein' played

♪ At the end of the day we 're not the kind ♪

♪ To give up hope an d fall in line ♪

♪ We're better than this

♪ If we're bein' honest

♪♪

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